Sunday, August 03, 2008

Freedom of Speech Has Its Price

If you've ever heard anyone say something which you considered to be stupid or ignorant or morally indefensible, you may have yielded to the temptation to tell the person what you thought about what he or she said. If so, chances are good that the subject of your criticism has not always responded in a positive and enlightened fashion to your criticism. Often, the response may be to try to deflect attention away from the substance of your criticism by implicitly accusing you of trying to abridge the person's constitutional right to free speech. "It's a free country," the accused may say in response to your criticism.

Well, of course it's a free country, at least when it comes to the right to freely speak what's on one's mind, provided that it doesn't endanger others for one to do so (as in the case of yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theatre), and provided that it abides by laws (such as those which the FCC has established for the public airwaves) which are designed to insure that people who are deemed to be too young to maturely handle certain types of expression are protected from such things.

What I find strange, though, is that there seems to be a substantial number of people who cannot grasp the idea that the same Constitution which protects their right to say the most inane things imaginable also protects the right of others to tell them that what they have said is inane. Censure and censorship are two words which sound somewhat similar to each other, but they do not mean the same thing. People who respond to censure as if their critics have tried to censor them demonstrate their ignorance. In an imperfect world in which people frequently disagree with one another, the only way to keep people from censuring one another would be to censor them, so there is something more than a little bit hypocritical about people who cannot take criticism like adults, and who choose instead to respond to such criticism by falsely accusing their critics of censorship.

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